Brazil 2001 : a revisionary history of Brazilian literature and culture

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The Case of Rubem Fonseca

—The Search for Reality

Karl Erik

Schollhammer

Translated by David Shepherd and Tania Shepherd

Don’t say armpit. Say

axilla.

Fonseca, 1973, 17.

If reality

could establish direct contact with our conscious mind,

communicate immediately with things and with useless, or rather,

we would

all

be

ourselves, art

we could

if

would probably be

artists.

Fonseca, 1973, 99.

There

Rubem

are

more than enough

reasons to highlight the importance of

Fonseca (1923) within contemporary Brazilian

central to the trajectory of

literature.

contemporary prose, with 18

novels to collections of short stories. Fiowever,

it is

titles

Fonseca

is

ranging from

not the purpose of

this

essay to praise the excellence of the writer’s oeuvre, because national critics

have already taken care of

this

task.

It

more important,

is

rather,

to

understand his innovative contribution to the mainstream trends of Brazilian literature.

Among

in prose the literary

critics,

there

is

a consensus that Fonseca has consolidated

urban tendencies of the

emergence of the

literature

usually agreed that the portrait of a privileges a marginal

represents a

came

to

three decades

and thus represents the

new urban

reality, as

Brazil. It

after the

is

also

painted by Fonseca,

dimension of both violence and crime that

form of political

power

last

of a modern, metropolitan

allegorically

resistance against the authoritarian regime that

“Revolution of 1964.

5,1

In the 1970s, there were three tendencies that aligned literary approaches

with the sociopolitical situation of the time.

First,

there was a

new

prose

224

PORTUGUESE LITERARY & CULTURAL STUDIES

4/5

addressing the theme of struggle against both the military regime and clandestine

with

lives,

titles

such

A

as

Casa de Vidro by Ivan Angelo (1979),

Calor das Coisas by Nelida Pinon (1980) and Os Carbonarios by Alfredo ( 1

0

Sirkis

98 1 )- 2 The second tendency that was becoming popular was documentary by press reports which denounced the repressive violence of

realism, inspired

the police

and which avoided the censorship imposed on newspapers by using

medium. This was exemplified by

literature as the

and Lucio

Flavio: Passageiro

Assassinos (1976)

Pixote a Lei do ,

da Agonia by Jose Louzeiro, or

by Aguinaldo

“brutalism” by Alfredo Bosi. 3

It

Silva.

The

Mais Fraco

Republica dos

trend has been called

third

had already exploded

Fonsecas short story collection, Os

A

1963 with

in

Rubem

Prisioneiros.

was characterized thematically by descriptions and

“Brutalism”

among

creations of social violence

outlaws, prostitutes, bouncers, corrupt

policemen and tramps. Without making any concessions to a

commitment, Fonseca created communicative.

his

themes

His

appropriating not only

own

style,

and

which was

on

focused

stories

its

re-

tragedies,

succinct, direct,

Rio

the

literary

and by

underworld,

but also

colloquial

its

language, which, in turn, became innovative within Fonsecas “marginal

Other writers

realism.”

Drummond

and,

Joao Gilberto Noll precursor and

exposing a

later,

—such

Roberto

Loyola Brandao,

Ignacio

Sergio Sant’ Anna, Caio Fernando Abreu, as well as

—followed

twin soul,

“human

as

in the footsteps

the

of both Fonseca and his friend,

Parana-born writer,

Dalton Trevisan, by

rawness” hitherto unseen in Brazilian literature.

Besides representing a realist element within an urban literature,

seem that the exploration of violence national prose. City

life,

mainly the marginal

life

for revitalizing literary realism. Violence

was extremely

difficult to represent,

new

The

literature

and

last

was an element that

decades has been drawing a

city, as

a symbolic

overcome the limitations of

or documentary realism which, despite the fact that cultural changes, has

of

this was, in turn, a challenge for

of the

image, both of urban reality and of the

cultural space, attempting to

would

of bas-fond had become a

new backdrop

writers’ poetic efforts.

it

also initiated a search for the renewal

been unable to depict the

it

and

either a

socio-

memorial

has followed socio-

city as a radically

new

condition for historical experience. In the prose of the 1960s and 1970s, the

complex

reality

narrative of an

of the large Brazilian metropolis offers a

emergent generation. The

city as

new

setting for the

such no longer represents a

universe ruled by justice and rationality, but rather a divided reality; the

BRAZIL 2001 SPRING/FALL 2000

symbolic division, which was formerly placed between “country” and is

now

placed between

“official city”

For the majority of critics and for certain state

SCH0LLHAMMER

the revelation of the

censors, 5

and of the de-humanization of urban

violent passions

“city,”

city.” 4

and “marginal

225

contained an implicit

life

ERIK

denouncement of the

Not

brutal reality under a repressive political regime.

KARL

without reason, they perceived in Fonsecas literature an implicit argument in favor of violence, inciting violent revolts against an illegitimate regime.

saying that

like

if social

reality

is

violent

and

self-destructive,

consequence of a wider violence deriving from the system ends up legitimizing social violence, provided that against the powerful

when guided

this

itself,

it

was

It

only a

is

which, in turn,

same violence

is

directed

in a politically correct way.

However, seen from another point of view,

this literature represented

attempt to comprehend both an excluding social

an

of the time and the

reality

urban middle-class reaction against growing

social inequalities, or rather

and murders. In

this sense, the fictionalization

armed

robberies, kidnappings

of the criminal world can be understood in terms of a re-symbolization of the

from

violent reality deriving

The

big

cities.

to

the reading public,

social confrontations in the

literary re-creation

underworld of the

of a coarse, colloquial language,

the large majority of

whom

unknown

were middle

class,

represented a will to overcome the barriers of social communication; at the

same time,

it

gave literary language

itself

a

new vitality

get out of the deadlock of traditional realism vis-a-vis

in order to be able to

modern urban

reality.

Fonsecas prose created a successful symbiosis between, on the one hand, a literature

with a clear political-social concern, and on the other, an

search for an expression

were noticeable in

which

historical

and regional

is

built

which

realism.

In “Intestino Grosso,” the final short story of FelizAno plot

artistic

could solve representative impasses

Novo (1975), the

by means of an interview with a writer who has been accused of

being “pornographic,” hinting that the character alter ego.

Running the

relevant

to

consider

risk

may

be the author’s

own

of being taken in by Fonsecas fictional game,

some of

the

character’s

opinions

as

keys

to

it is

an

understanding of the author’s oeuvre. To begin with, the writer reports how, at the

beginning of his

career,

he was harmed by the expectations of the

publishers, critics

and newspaper’s

that he “write like

Machado de

literary

Assis.”

supplements, for they

For someone

who

all

insisted

“lived in a block of

apartments in the center of town,” listening to the “noise of motorcar engines,” this did not

make much

sense. Next, the critique

of the character-

226

PORTUGUESE LITERARY & CULTURAL STUDIES

4/5

oriented Brazilian literary tradition manifests

and Historical Realism,

Naturalism

as

itself in

well

as

opposition to both folklore-oriented

to

Regionalism. These tendencies are rejected as inadequate vis-a-vis the

urban experience, paving the way for the sordid

life stories

new

of the marginal

underworlds that are excluded from the large metropolis. Accused of being a pornographic

the interviewed author challenges this criticism by

writer,

admitting positively that his books are “peopled by toothless destitutes”



(1994, 461). Thus, the notion of pornography

defended by the

fiercely

character in order to reject the censors’ favorite justification

—does

not

correspond to a traditional definition. Instead of identifying his literature

as

within the characteristics inherent to the genre, the author-character claims that “pornography”

of

which seeks

that literature

is

a

new

expressive

economy

by revealing both forbidden and excluded themes.

literary language,

According to him, the problem with the present-day naturalist and novel

is

that

it

no longer

offers a representation

of

reality that

arousing the reader’s emotions. This happens, in the lack of thematic focus in a

backdrop

which

“typical landscapes,”

first

capable of

is

place, because of a

which used

to serve as

have long moved away from the new

for historical narratives,

within which the majority of the population

urban

reality

means

that the conventional representational language of realism,

as a tool for fictional identification,

realist

no longer

Secondly,

lives.

reflects reality,

when

nor

it

used

capable

is

of provoking an affective and sensual effect equal to contemporary passions

and emotions. According to the

fictional author, this loss

affecting literature’s ability to

Despite the fact that realism

convey the symbolic

is still

social

express

themes due

living

and banned from

is

it

still

has ceased to extract valuable plots

Given

this

to choose those

their culture.

one

impotence,

option

for

themes and objects that are excluded

Such themes focus not only on sex



longer branded with the same cultural stigma today violence,

reality.

and

to the absence of a literary language that could

experience.

contemporary authors

new

vis-a-vis a

directed at the historical world

seeks to maintain an imitative fidelity,

from

of expressive force has been

,

—no

but also misery,

madness and death.

Confronted with forbidden themes,

literary

language

may

recover an

important cultural role by confronting, in an indirect way, an exclusionary discursive regime that dominates Brazilian society

perpetuates itself through

and which,

modes of communication, cybernetic

materially,

structures

BRAZIL 2001 SPRING/FALL 2000

When

and other ideological apparatuses.

search

in

of an expressive

innovation, literature confronts the limits of representation;

it

manages

of transgression, the most concrete form of

express, in the defeat

227

to

SCH0LLHAMMER

own

its

prohibition. In this way, the struggle takes place within language, swinging ERIK

between subversive

and affirmative

literature

discourses,

whose main KARL

objective

is

what deserves

to define

At the

to be regarded as real or otherwise.

core of literary creation, the poetic aims to create, fictionally, certain “effects”

of

reality

through more violent emotions, and not to search for

pleasures. For the author-character this

means searching

illusive

for a “real four-letter

word,” because only the four-letter word can create the right shock. For him

word

the four-letter derives

different

is

from the well-behaved word. The

from the expression of human shame

as

confronted with

latter

its

own

nakedness and animal nature. Fie claims that “[mjetaphors appeared so that

our forefathers did not to have to say

‘fuck,’” 6 at the

same time highlighting

the “word” as the focal point of artistic struggle with society.

may seem

It

useless to

attempt

whose

part of an old tradition

type of scandalous effect, but

this

may

origin

modern

literature

work of the Marquis de novel,

Sade.

which soon gave

work of de

constitute the

first

a sensorial effect

in 1963, that the real

included the English gothic novel and the

The French philosopher argued

rise to

which was

Sade,

also

have a significant kinship with the

modern notion of literature. Michel Foucault claimed, precursors of

it is

that the gothic

fantasy in literature, as well as the intriguing

in

its

own way

also a type

of gothic

literature,

time that there was a conscious effort by writers to create

beyond the message

reader. 7 Fear, terror,

restlessness

that the narrative could

and excitement

are

convey to the

no more than

a sampling

of the feelings that a text could provoke. Literature thus went beyond a means

of representing

realities

receptive reality. 8

within conventional

The “new”

in

modern

classic

molds by creating

literature, as seen in the

its

own

examples

provided by Foucault, meant that the sensory effect here did not necessarily corroborate the content of the message. this content,

while

it

It

did, however, indicate a limit for

pointed towards a meaning beyond

itself,

or rather

towards non-meaning. Within this limit, the language of modern literature faced

its

opposite,

Fonsecas

first

its

unnamable or

novel,

O

its

ineffable.

Caso Morel (1973), represents a clear example of

the author’s literary project as well as a relative exception. In the

textual

and

discursive

criticism

exceptional as a formal experiment

of the

1970s,

the

harmony with novel

appears

which mixes various fragments of genres

228

PORTUGUESE LITERARY & CULTURAL STUDIES

such

4/5

the novel, the diary, the police report, apocryphal citations, an

as

autopsy report, and

how

metadiscussion of

name

to

letters,

a few.

to represent reality

9

,

Within a pseudo-academic

the plot develops as a search for

and Morel

the truth about Joan’s death (or Heloisa’s), the lover of Morel, himself,

who

the

is

main narrator and who

on the

narrator and

main

other, the story

accused of murder. In Fonseca’s is

not

as

common

10 .

But here

on the one hand, the narration of

narration retains a double articulation;

crime, and

is

type of intertextual staging

later novels, this

character, the musician-painter-photographer Paul

(or Morais), writing serves as

a

of the future of narration. Thus, for the

an explicit means of remembering the

Morel

facts that

led to Joana’s death, a kind of Freudian Durcharbeitung (“working- through”), in

which the narrator

tries to relive

creation. In this way, the

words

those facts through the artistic process of

in the narrator’s conscience seek their origin

within an enigma which, albeit articulated as the conventional secret of the detective genre



who’s done

i.e.,

it



hides a

more fundamental enigma

about the relationship between writing and events. During the narrator’s search, the facts

around Joana’s death

are revealed.

However,

at the

same time,

writing appears to be, for the narrator, the means by which reality emerges,

an event that embodies that which

is

real

and can be

felt.

As

a narrative, the

novel reconstructs events through an immersion in Morel’s occulted memory.

From

the point of view of reading, events emerge between various textual

explanations in a growing intertwining of words and things. is

conveyed

as

an insurmountable distance

The

real

enigma

that, despite the characters’

and

the readers’ efforts, remains undiluted, like the silence of the victim Joana.

The key

question about what really happened between Morel and Joana

remains unanswered. In a

We lay

first

version,

Morel

writes:

spent the afternoon drinking, in silence. Afterwards

down on

the sand.

were an empty

“You

see

we went out and Joana

We gazed at the sunset. Afterwards, I kicked Joana,

as if she

tin can.

what you’ve made

me

do?”

She didn’t answer. “I

hate cruelty,”

I

said,

almost in

tears.

Joana opened her eyes and calmly looked

blood but she did not appear to be “I

never want to see you again,”

I

at the sky.

in pain.

said.

Her mouth was

stained with

BRAZIL 2001 SPRING/FALL 2000

I

229

went home. (1973, 111) SCH0LLHAMMER

Soon

after this,

a second version appears:

ERIK

I

kicked Joana. She laughed.

I

kept on kicking her while she laughed and

I

looked KARL

at the sunset. It

was a beautiful thing, indescribable.

Joana stopped laughing. (1973, 113)

The account comes happened on that kicking;

to an

day.

end without easing the doubt about what

Whether Joana died

really

consequence of Morels

whether Francisco, her caring admirer, or the poor couple of

caretakers,

who had hidden

her body, were responsible for her death.

seemed

guilty of Joana’s death if she

sadomasochist

The

as a

to search for

Who

and provoke

it

is

in

it

rituals?

novel includes a typical characteristic of Fonseca’s detective novels,

that of the

enigma without

resolution, without hermeneutic relief for the

reader. In the detective’s frustrated search,

Fonseca copies a noir feature from

the Maltese Falcon but also draws attention to the appearance of reality vis-a-vis ,

the

meaning of language. With the same impetus

as

Morel,

who

searches for

an affective communication with an alienated world, a search that culminates in the explicit violence against Joana, the novel tries to penetrate palpable reality

by taking the “word”

to the verge

The unnamable and incommunicable underside of an expression that

is

of an eclipse in the silence of death.

facts thus transpire in the text like the

impossible to represent.

In conclusion, the thematic option for violence in Fonseca’s prose

understood

as reflecting

literary languages.

an expressive search aimed

at

may

be

innovating traditional

Fonseca has been labeled a “post-modern” author due to

the fact that, for example, the presence of media reality can be detected in his characters’ conscience.

However, Fonseca’s

as a skeptical de-stabilization

of

reality

main objective of his prose appears literary expression that

historical realism,

prose

is

is

literature

and of the meaning of

side,

The

reality.

to be the search for a language or for a

adequate to urban

on one

should not be identified

reality vis-a-vis the

impotence of

and modernist experience on the

The

other.

best described as neo-realist with the safeguard that the labels neo-, ,

hyper- or trans-realism qualify his

work

in a singular

manner within

the

thematic perspective of violence. Historical realism searched for an “illusion

of

reality”

by means of

direct mimesis,

which was,

in turn, distinct

from

230

PORTUGUESE LITERARY & CULTURAL STUDIES

common

conventionally reality.” 11

Fonsecas

4/5

language,

realism

resides

words, an “effect of

Barthes’

or,

in

in

the sensorial

concreteness of his

language, which appears, in turn, to contain the direct experience of the

event

—an

of

“affect

reality”



which the representation of violence

in

becomes the violence of representation.

Notes I

The “Revolu^ao de 64” was

the

name

received by a military

coup

d’etat

which ousted

democratically elected president Joao Goulart and led to the military control of Brazil which

20

lasted for 7 as

O

years. (Translators note)

This was a

Que

e Isso

literary

genre that resembled autobiographical memoirs, along the same lines

Companheiro? (1981), by Fernando Gabeira.

3 Bosi 18.

4

The

idea of a divided city underpins Brazilian urban sociology, especially in the books by

Carvalho (1994) and Ventura (1994). 5

In 1976, Fonsecas short-story collection FelizAno

for “offending public morals.”

The

Novo was confiscated by state censors 1980 the Court of

writer appealed the decision, but in

Appeals upheld the sentence, claiming that the book “incited violence.”

It

was only

in

1988

that the Courts decided to judge in favor of the writer, thus allowing the reprinting of the book, as well as granting

him indemnity

for material losses.

6 “Certain anthropologists attribute these restrictions

on the

so-called four-letter

word

to

the ancestral taboo of incest. Philosophers claim that what disturbs and alarms are not events themselves, but

human

beings’

own

opinions and fantasies about them. This

human

beings live in a symbolic universe, which contains language, myth,

threads

which weave the

7 See Foucault, 8

This

close

web of human

“Language to

varied

1963

in Tel Quel.

been acknowledged since Antiquity. For example,

the Aristotelian notion of catharsis in Greek tragedy, the ritualistic is

the case because

experience.” Fonseca, Contos Reunidos 463-4.

Infinity;” essay originally published in

literary function has obviously

is

art, religion as

and symbolic

role

in

of drama

emphasized, always in close connection with the universality of plot, or rather, content. 9

“Thanks

image on one 10

for the

side,

encouragement.

and the

reality

of

We

have, therefore,

I’image,

on the other”

what can be

called the reality of

(163).

Despite a certain generic experimentation in the short stories “Lucia McCartney” and

“Romance Negro.” I

as a

Barthes explains the description of apparently insignificant details in the fiction of Balzac

kind of mimetic redundancy which only significance

is

that “this

is

real.”

See Barthes,

“L’Effet de Reel.”

Works Cited Barthes, Roland. “L’Effet de Reel.” Comunications 11 (1968): 84-89. ,

Bosi, Alfredo. “Situa^ao e

Formas do Conto

Brasileiro

Contemporaneo.”

O

Conto Brasileiro

Contempordneo. Sao Paulo: Cultrix, 1975. 7-22. Carvalho, Maria Alice Rezende de. Quatro Vezes Cidade. Rio de Janeiro: Sette Letras, Fonseca,

Rubem.

O

Caso Morel. Rio de Janeiro: Artenova, 1973.

1

994.

BRAZIL 2001 SPRING/FALL 2000

Contos Reunidos. Sao Paulo:

Companhia

231

das Letras, 1994.

Foucault, Michel. “Language to Infinity.” 1963. Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays

and Interviews.

Transl.

and

ed.

Donald D. Bouchard.

Ithaca,

New York:

Cornell UP,

SCH0LLHAMMER

1977. 53-67. Ventura, Zuenir. Cidade Partida. Sao Paulo:

Companhia

das Letras, 1994. ERIK

KARL

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Brazil 2001 : a revisionary history of Brazilian literature and culture

The Case of Rubem Fonseca —The Search for Reality Karl Erik Schollhammer Translated by David Shepherd and Tania Shepherd Don’t say armpit. Say a...

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